Genetic testing averts cancer recurrence for area woman

Kathy Sockness of Stanley is living proof that cancer research can help save lives.

After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2008 revealed it ran in her family, genetic testing showed she was a carrier of a defective gene that put her at an extremely high risk of another bout of cancer. Knowing this helped her choose a course of action to ensure the likelihood she wouldn’t have to deal with such a diagnosis again.

Friday’s Relay for Life event, which begins at 6 p.m. at Chippewa Falls Middle School, will again help raise funds for the American Cancer Society to continue research on cancer. Sockness, along with Rebecca Hanson, have been named the event’s honorary survivors this year.

As of Tuesday evening, this year’s event had 131 participants on 22 teams who raised $13,652 for cancer research.

Kathy’s story

After Kathy underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy after her initial diagnosis, her doctor recommended she have genetic testing done. Kathy’s mother had cancer twice — first in her breast and five years later in her ovaries. Both of her mother’s sisters died of cancer. Two of her aunts also passed away from cancer, as did one niece.

Genetic testing, using a blood sample, began.

Women having inherited a defective BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have very high risks for breast and ovarian cancer. Mutation carriers are urged to have a complete mastectomy and hysterectomy to save their lives.

A week and a half after her blood sample was mailed in, the results of the test showed she carried the defective gene. Her chances of getting cancer in her other breast or her ovaries was 90%.

At 52, Kathy initially didn’t want to have any more surgery.

“Then I got to thinking about it,” Kathy said. “Ninety percent was a big chance. The odds were against me. So I had it done. I’m glad now I chose to.”

Knowing she had the gene undoubtedly saved her from another bout with cancer, which she might not have been as lucky to win.

Kathy’s daughter, Wendy, also chose to be tested for the defective gene and learn if she was at risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

“She doesn’t have the gene, and she’ll never have it,” Kathy said. “It was a big relief.”

Kathy is looking forward to attending the Chippewa Falls Relay for Life, which she’s never been to before, with her husband Leonard, daughter Wendy and granddaughter.

She knows firsthand the importance of continued research in cancer.

“This gene testing actually gives people a chance for early detection, which is so important in saving lives,” Kathy said.

Rebecca’s story

Rebecca Hanson was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009. A scan revealed that the only treatment that would work is removal of the majority of her colon.

“When she was first diagnosed and before the surgery, things looked grim,” said her husband, Russell Hanson. “But after the surgery, and adapting, she’s back to herself — and that is one very happy grandmother.”

These days Rebecca works full time in addition to caring for two grandchildren and one adopted grandchild, all who live with her.

She’s on medication to help her body cope without having a colon, and has some diet restrictions, but all-in-all she’s back to living life to the fullest.

“It hasn’t slowed her down,” Russell said. “She does what she wants to do within her medical limitations.”

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